In the run-up to the World Test Championship Final between India and Australia at The Oval, there was a huge debate over whether ace off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin will make it to the playing eleven or not.
With 474 wickets in 92 matches at a strike-rate of 51.8, including 32 five-wicket/innings hauls, keeping Ashwin, the top-ranked Test bowler, out of the marquee clash as India preferred four fast-bowlers has invited criticism from former cricketers of both nations.
The Oval pitch, which looked green, assisted the seamers for the first hour or so under overcast conditions. But as the sun came out and clouds began to move away, it turned good for batting.Travis Head (146 not out) and Steve Smith (95 not out) feasted on a lacklustre Indian bowling line-up to stitch a mammoth 251-run unbeaten stand for the fourth wicket as Australia reached 327/3 at the stumps on Day 1.
Legendary India batter Sunil Gavaskar was left aghast over Ashwin's exclusion from an important match. "He's the No.1 ranked bowler. You don't look at the pitch for players like him. You are playing a World Test Championship Final, and you don't pick the number one bowler in Test cricket. This decision from Team India is beyond my understanding."
"I would have picked him in place of Umesh Yadav, who was out of action and looks out of rhythm. There are four left-handed batters in this Australian side, and he has traditionally done well against them. It is shocking that there isn't any off-spinner in this side," he was quoted as saying by the broadcasters.
Similar sentiments were echoed by former India captain Sourav Ganguly. "That's an afterthought and I don't believe in after-thoughts once the toss is done. Every captain is different and Rohit had his own ideas."
"The conditions suited four fast bowlers and India have won Test matches with such an attack. But I would have personally thought twice before keeping a spinner of his quality out of the XI."Former Australia captain Ricky Ponting believes leaving Ashwin out will be something which India will rue later, citing the mastery he has on getting left-handed batters out.
"As this game goes on, I have got no doubt that there is going to be a turn. Australia have got a lot of left-handers in their batting line-up to which Ashwin would have been perfectly suited for.""So far for me, it looks like it was a mistake from them by playing the four-seamers, but we will see how the game pans out," he was quoted as saying by ICC afte' the end of day one's play.
Similar views were echoed by his former teammate Matthew Hayden. "I feel that Ravichandran Ashwin is such a key factor, the leading wicket-taker in the Tests cycle is not there. There are a few factors worth pondering on in Team India's perspective," he said.
Ashwin had earlier been made to sit out of playing eleven during India's tour of England in the 2021 and 2022 games. Former Australia pacer Damien Fleming is certain the ace off-spinner should have been named in the playing eleven.
"I thought Ashwin would play and in hindsight, he should have, because I thought Yadav and Thakur just didn't beat build pressure, did they? In good condition for them. They should have played Ashwin," he was quoted as saying by SEN Radio.
In the end-of-the-day press conference at The Oval, India bowling coach Paras Mhambrey, defended the decision to leave out Ashwin, citing the conditions and previous history of seamers doing well for the side.
"See, it's always a very difficult decision to drop a champion bowler like that. But I thought looking at the conditions in the morning, I thought having the additional seamer would definitely be beneficial. And it has worked in the past. If you look at the earlier games that we played, the last Test match, we went in with four seamers, which really went well.
"The seamers have done well out here for us. You can always look at it in hindsight, saying an additional spinner would have been different. But looking at the conditions in the morning, I thought an additional seamer would definitely be helpful," he said.